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Classic Beer of the Month December 2014: De Dolle Stille Nacht

De Dolle Stille Nacht, 12%

If you can't treat yourself to a special beer at this time of year, when can you? And, if you're looking for a particular Christmas treat, there are few better or more appropriate than De Dolle's Stille Nacht.

Stille NachtDe Dolle Brouwers was founded in 1980 near Diksmuide, Belgium. The name means 'Mad Brewers', but I can assure you the family that runs the business are no fools. Among the beers they produce are the acclaimed Oerbier and Arabier.

Their Christmas beer, despite its playful label, is a serious proposition.

It takes its name from the carol known in English as Silent Night, which was first performed on Christmas Eve, 1818, in a church near Salzburg, and is a beer to take some time over, as one glance at the label and the reference to 12% alcohol reveals.

To achieve such a giddying strength, the pale malt in the mash is bolstered by candi sugar – it's an old Belgian ruse for making beer strong without overcomplicating the malt flavours or generating too much body. Nugget hops in the kettle come from the fields of nearby Poperinge and they are also used for dry hopping.

Christmas in a Glass

The result is the essence of Christmas in a glass, a golden beer with a pleasant effervescence and a smooth, spicy aroma bursting with the sticky fruity notes of oranges, tangerines and grapes.

The candi sugar does its job admirably, as you discover as soon as you take a sip. Despite the strength, the beer drinks light and crisp and it's rather delicate and airy.

Citrus notes abound and there are warming suggestions of white wine throughout, leading to a drying, zesty finish that becomes herbal and moderately bitter but is by no means cloying or heavy.

It is poignant to reflect as you drink that, very close to where this beer is brewed, the famous carol that shares its name once echoed eerily across the muddy waste of no-man's land.

Indeed, it was exactly a hundred years ago on Christmas Eve that the guns fell silent and Allied soldiers picked out the tune drifting across from the German lines. Thus began the famous Christmas truce that disrupted, albeit only for a few days, the madness of the First World War.

That's a sobering thought even with such a strong beer in your glass.

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